Friday, January 10, 2014

Big Bend National Park and West Texas

Although the distance from Seminole Canyon to Great Bend National Park is only 200 miles, we drove slowly to enjoy the magnificent scenery along the way. Towns and fuel stations are few and far between in West Texas. When we traveled to Alaska, we carried extra fuel in two five gallon containers. But, by sticking to our rule of always filling up whenever we had 1/4 of a tank or less left, we never had to use our reserve cans. So, we felt safe going without the spare canisters. That rule almost let us run out of fuel in West Texas. With a steady altitude gain and a head wind, a quarter of a tank is not enough to reach the next fuel stop. We didn't run out, but it was close. 
Confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande (deer on the river's edge)

We drove west on US 90 until we reached US 385 where, at Marathon, a small town just north of Big Bend National Park, we turn south to enter the park. Unlike most national parks we have visited, this one has very little tourist development surrounding it. There are no McDonalds or Subways to be found here, let alone a water slide or miniature golf. 

As we drove south on US 385 the Chisos Mountains rose before us in magical purple splendor. Sarah and I each commented that we had no idea Texas had such majestic mountains. Planning to spend about a week in the park, I wanted to divide our stay between the three campgrounds, Chisos Basin in the center of the park, Rio Grande Village in the southeast and Cottonwood in the southwest. But, the ranger at the check-in station told us our rig was too big for Chisos Basin so we drove south to Rio Grande Village. At Rio Grande Village we had the choice of either a dry camping or full hookup campground. Sarah opted for full hookup. While the dry camping area was more scenic, we enjoyed the convenience of having electricity because we could use our electric heater rather than propane. The severe cold that had gripped the rest of the country also made itself felt way down in Texas. The locals were definitely complaining. We just enjoyed the 45 degree weather knowing what it was like at home.
Our first  Rio Grande overlook

Big Bend National Park encompasses 801,163 acres, some of the highest peaks in Texas and a wonderful hot spring right on the Rio Grande River. It is the 15th largest National Park. 

Arriving late in the afternoon, we took a short hike into Boquillas Canyon and got our first close up look at the Rio Grande. It was much more beautiful than I had imagined. I thought it would be a dark brown and slow moving creek. Instead, I found an aquamarine vibrant appearing river. 
Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park

Knowing that there are black bear and mountain lions here, Sarah and I were on the road before dawn to drive the Old Ore Road in hopes of catching a glimpse of one or the other. The road is about 26 miles long and only suitable for high clearance four wheel drive vehicles. We didn't see any large mammals, but we saw lots of birds and had the opportunity to hike into deep canyons and explore the abandoned ranches and homesteads along the way. The next day we drove the 45 mile River Road that traverses the southern edge of the park parallel to the Rio Grande River. This road also demands the use of a high clearance 4WD vehicle. These park roads are one lane with nasty thorn bearing vegetation encroaching on them. Our poor tow vehicle suffered a lot of scratches from these vicious plants. When I mentioned this to one of the rangers, she said they call these scratches "desert pinstripes". With any luck they can be buffed out.
Sarah climbing to the tijana
Chisos Mountains from River Road, Great Bend National Park
Quicksilver (mercury) mining operation. The men who worked here in the early 20th century lived to be about 30 years old due to mercury poisoning.
The Rio Grande, a wild and scenic river

On the third day in the park the weather warmed a little so we decided to hike the Lost Mine Trail. Starting just above Chisos Basin the trail climbs for two and a half miles gaining 1,100 feet of altitude to arrive at 7,650 feet to awe inspiring views of the surrounding desert. We both delighted in the beautiful flora that is part of the ecosystem of this high desert. A lush oak, juniper and sumac forest provides cover for deer, bear and the ever elusive mountain lion. After the climb we rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine at the Chisos Basin Mountain Lodge followed by a welcomed soak in the hot springs near our campground.
Deer on the Lost Mine Trail
Sarah spotted this impressive tarantula
Summit of Lost Mine Trail, Chisos Mountains 

Hot spring on the Rio Grande
The next day we drove across the sloping desert to the southeast of the Chisos Mountains to hike the Pine Canyon trail. The trail starts in the Chihuahuan desert and ascends about 1,000 feet through a riparian forest to the base of an outwash. It was interesting to see the change in vegetation as we gained altitude.

Tomorrow is Sarah's birthday. Our plan is to move the Mary Joan to Terlingua, a resurrected ghost town just west of Big Bend National Park. We have been invited to join Dan and Tanna at their home for margaritas at sunset. We met this wonderful couple while hiking the Lost Mine Trail. Dan is a retired National Parks Ranger and supervisor who has built a beautiful winter home here in the desert.

Glorious sunset
Stay tuned.


  1. Thanks for a great "tour" of the park and wonderful photos. Someday soon we hope to follow your path. Pat and Al.

  2. Your very welcome. I hope my writing inspires others to get out and see this beautiful country we live in and appreciate its diversity, not just the scenery but also its people.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, it means a lot to me to know that my efforts are appreciated.

  3. That is one of my favorite Airstream destinations thus far. The wild beauty of Big Bend is such a different experience than most National Parks. You definitely feel like you have the place to your self. On our trip to Big Bend, we did not hike as many trails because we felt our daughter was a bit young. I cannot wait to return. Your photos make me want to go back.

  4. Doug, I wholeheartedly agree about about feeling like having the place to oneself. Even now, at high season, the place still feels wild and free.

    Thanks for the comment, I'll try to keep the posts and pictures coming.

  5. Great post! We enjoyed meeting you while taking a dip in the hot springs. We may even be inspired to start our own travel blog. Enjoy the rest of your journey!

  6. We also enjoyed meeting you. Thanks for checking out our blog. It means a lot to us.


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